The fabulous Helen George has been an integral part of Call The Midwife since the very first episode aired in 2012. Now, a decade later, the BBC has confirmed the much-loved TV show will be running until 2024 with seasons 13 and 14 being commissioned – and George’s character, Trixie Franklin, remains as vital a part of the story as ever.
It makes sense, then, that Stylist decided to sit down with the actor to discuss all things Call The Midwife.
Here’s what George had to say to us…
Congratulations on reaching the 10th anniversary of Call The Midwife! Have you been able to celebrate together yet?
Not yet, but I think the actual celebration was just getting the series shot, because at one point we didn’t know whether we were going to be able to do that. So doing that was enough, to be honest.
Was it quite different filming with Covid-19 restrictions in place?
Oh, it was vastly different, but it’s amazing how – just as in life – we all got used to it so quickly. In the first week, it was definitely hard just working out the social distancing technicalities… but, by the end of it, we all became remarkably good at knowing what two metres actually looked like!
Of course, there was less interaction, and lunches were very different experiences; we no longer had the dining bus, and we instead ate in a hallway where we all sat individually. But I think we were just so pleased to be out of the house by that point, and working, too. So many of my friends work as crew members, and in theatre, and they’ve had nothing at all… it’s been really tough for so many people. We’ve all felt very, very lucky to be working.
It must feel like such a nice family dynamic, as you’ve all been working together for so long?
There’s definitely a crazy family dynamic, but there’s always lots of new people joining the show, so I think it always feels fresh and intriguing, too.
The show is often dismissed by people as “cosy TV”, despite its feminist leanings. Why do you think this is?
I think it’s because Call The Midwife is so quietly revolutionary. There’s babies, and family, and medical issues, and friendship, and community, and privilege and lack thereof, and all the rest of it. There’s so many facets to it, and the quiet voice which underpins the show is feminism, because it’s finding a female voice in a sea of male voices, particularly for the time.
It’s done so carefully, and there’s so many political and socially political questions that arise from it, so it’s a fascinating world to watch… and it’s not sold on feminism, it’s sold on everything else.
I’d be lying if I said I didn’t get annoyed when people say, “Oh, it’s just a twee show about tea and nuns,” because it’s a show about female progression. It’s about the abortion act, it’s about human rights, it’s about the fact that it was illegal to be gay until the 70s. You know, it’s a show about social history, and I do get slightly frustrated when people think they know the show until they’ve watched it. And then they realise that, ooh, there’s a prolapsed uterus in this episode, and it’s not quite what they thought it was going to be!
With all that in mind, how does the show maintain its sense of warmth and empathy when it’s dealing with these big, difficult topics?
I think because it’s seen through the eyes of the nuns and the midwives who work at Nonnatus House, and the people surrounding them, its focus is on the forces of love and care and support and community. These women are sort of militant about their vocation; it’s done with such passion.
For them, it’s not just a job – as I think we are still realising of nurses, particularly during this pandemic; it has to be more than that, because you can’t be underpaid and work as hard as you work just for the hell of it. You have to have a passion and a love and a belief in what you do. If the last year has taught us anything, it’s that nursing is so much more than just a clinical job; it’s about care and responsibility to each other. And that’s what’s so fantastic about medical professionals.
Of course, it’s wonderful to see Trixie striving forward in her career, but some fans get upset that she hasn’t had what they see as her “happy ending” – she has yet to find lasting love. What would you say to these people?
It’s lovely that they want Trixie to be happy, because it means they care about her, so I’m very thankful for that. As Helen, though, I find it interesting that she hasn’t found a man to support her, and she hasn’t gone against her beliefs, either; she’s the one that decided her past relationships weren’t working for her, and she was the one who decided to step away from them.
She hasn’t settled; instead, she has delved into her career with such passion and courage. And I’m proud of her for being a kickass woman that doesn’t need a boyfriend, and stands up to the men in suits in the 60s, especially when women didn’t stand up to the men in suits. I’m inherently proud of that. And I wouldn’t want it any other way.
Have you read the memoirs the series is based on, to find out what happens to her in the end?
When I first got the job, I did, but I haven’t gone back to them and I think it would be really interesting to go back and realise what Trixie was originally in the books. And it would be good to watch all of the episodes back, which I haven’t done because there’s so many. But at some point, when I’m old and grey and retired, I will sit down with a cup of tea, and watch all of them and enjoy her growth.
There’s a lady, actually, that’s contacted me who lives in Switzerland, and she thinks she was the original Trixie from the books. Nowadays she’s married to a diplomat, and I was supposed to go out to a lovely charity ball they were holding, but I couldn’t make it in the end due to filming. It’s kind of how I imagine Trixie to end up, though; living her best life in Switzerland!
What’s it like working with so many women on and off camera? Does it make for a different environment?
I think I’m really lucky and spoiled with it, because when I go and do other jobs, I realise that it’s not like that in a big bad world. It’s fantastic to have these inspirational women around you, and that bleeds through onto set. And so I just assume that this utopian female world is what all life is like, and then I get shouted at by a builder while I’m walking down the road, and I come back bumping down to earth.
This series focuses on the differences between private and public healthcare; what do you hope people will take away from this?
I hope they will realise how essential the NHS is. If you look at countries who don’t have a national health service, and how they’ve been dealing with this pandemic… well, I know we’ve fared really terribly badly, but that’s not the NHS’ fault, is it? If we hadn’t had that there, and only had a private health system care how much higher than those would have been.
So, yes, I hope that they’ll take away how essential it is, no matter what side of government they’re on. I hope the message is getting through that the NHS can never be dismantled or turned into a private system and sold. And you know what? I feel like someone needs to make a Call The Midwife about care homes, so we realise just how crucial they are as well.
And on that note, what have you learned about yourself over the last 12 months?
I’m spending less; Jack’s finally made me realise that I don’t need to be buying things every other day. So you know, the basic fundamentals like that, and the pandemic has definitely made me value family life much more, too. I’m lucky to have a partner, and a daughter, and a dog. So that’s been fantastic.
I think I’ve just been valuing my home life a bit more… and the little things, of course.
You can watch Call The Midwife 2021 on BBC One each Sunday evening at 8pm.
Kayleigh Dray is Stylist’s digital editor-at-large. Her specialist topics include comic books, films, TV and feminism. On a weekend, you can usually find her drinking copious amounts of tea and playing boardgames with her friends.